Incubation and suppression processes in creative problem solving

Gilhooly, K. J., Georgiou, G. J., Sirota, M. and Paphiti-Galeano, A. (2015) Incubation and suppression processes in creative problem solving. Thinking & Reasoning, 21(1), pp. 130-146. ISSN (print) 1354-6783


The present study investigated the role of thought suppression in incubation, using a delayed incubation paradigm. A total of 301 participants were tested over five conditions, viz., continuous work control, incubation with a mental rotations interpolated task, focussed suppression, unfocussed suppression and a conscious expression condition. Checks were made for intermittent work during the incubation condition. The target task was alternative uses for a brick. In the incubation and suppression conditions, participants worked for 4 minutes, then had a break during which suppression or the mental rotations interpolated task was carried out for 3 minutes before conscious work was resumed for a further 4 minutes on the alternative uses task. Results indicated that both incubation with an interpolated distractor task and incubation with suppression were effective in enhancing performance relative to controls. The intermittent work hypothesis (that effects of an incubation period are simply due to illicit conscious work on the target task during the incubation period) was not upheld. The effects of incubation/suppression persisted over the post-incubation working period and the results suggested that unfocussed suppression effects on subsequent fluency lasted longer than focussed suppression effects.

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